Ruins, roses and a Roman bath

I’m not too sure how genuine the ‘Roman’ bath was, to be honest, but this was a terrific day out at Lowther Castle near Penrith. It’s been on the ‘to visit’ list for several years but we’ve never quite got there before. However, a couple of weeks ago we spotted the grounds were open again after the lockdown and Dave managed to grab some tickets.

And we had a simply lovely time exploring this vast area of gardens and woodland, which is simply stuffed with flowers, trees, summerhouses, weird bits of sculpture and other ‘features’, with stunning views across the north Cumbria landscape and with the ruins of the castle brooding over it all.

We arrived pretty much as the place was opening and after a takeaway coffee in the courtyard, joined the queue to get through the gates. The castle itself is mostly a roofless shell but provides a remarkable backdrop to its demesne. It’s not as old as some although the remaining buildings, dating from the early nineteenth century, are the third incarnation of stately home on the site. But what it lacks in antiquity it makes up for in atmosphere.

I seem to remember they started a project to rescue the gardens from the wilderness a few years ago, and around that time there were ‘ghost walks’ in the grounds – and I can quite believe it. We visited on a brilliantly sunny and hot day, but if the mood was right this would be a mysterious place indeed. Not least because of the ruins themselves, of course, but also the strange bits of masonry poking out of the undergrowth at various points. There’s a staircase to nowhere made out of bits of the nearby Shap Abbey, bought and carted to Lowther some time in the 18th century. There’s a stone sarcophagus lying about in the rock garden. There’s a series of strange pools or wells in the ‘sweet smelling garden’ (still a work in progress). There’s a mosaic pavement (which looks far more like painted cement than the Roman tiles I was hoping for). And there’s that Roman bath, plonked in the middle of a path (see above). Why, I have no idea. But it seems to sum up the fascinatingly bonkers atmosphere of the rest of the place quite well.

The impressive ruins, complete with tropical planting.
The newly-restored rose garden.

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